For those who have been following this ridiculous “#GamerGate” story, where a bunch of misogynists who have been harassing a video game developer named Zoe Quinn because her vindictive ex-boyfriend sent them after her, have probably been happy to see that Quinn just dumped a bunch of screenshots disproving their already flimsy excuses for the harassment. From the get-go, it’s been obvious that the real reason all these haters have been attacking Quinn is that she’s a hate object for them to dump their misogyny and resentments all over, but the “official” reason is they are very concerned about the integrity of gaming journalism. The accusation is she “bought” positive press by sleeping with a journalist for it. The fact that the press she supposedly bought with sex doesn’t exist hasn’t slowed this bullshit down. But Quinn shared a bunch of screenshots showing that, in fact, the “concern” over “ethics” was a paper-thin rationale for what’s really going on, which is a widespread semi-conspiracy to harass a few targeted women in games in an effort to scare off anyone in gaming who insists on believing women are people. So I recommend reading the link.
But I do fear this won’t slow any of the harassment down, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because it was evidence from day #1 that there was no real concern about the ethics of gaming journalism going on. Here’s the two big reasons why:
1) Journalists are the people responsible for maintaining journalistic ethics, not the people they cover. If you’re a journalist who mostly covers politics, you deal on a regular basis with activists, lobbyists, campaigners, political offices, etc., all of whom are tasked, in large part, with getting positive press coverage of their work. To this end, they send out press releases and contact journalists with interview requests and even cultivate professional relationships with them. In many cases, these folks become friends and you hang out with them when you’re off the clock. Some people go from one “side” of this equation to the other all the time, working maybe as a P.R. professional and then getting into journalism or vice versa.
None of this is a problem, so long as the journalist sticks to their responsibility to write and report honestly. It’s your job, as a journalist, to keep a skeptical eye out and call ’em as you see ’em. It’s not only weird to expect the people you’re covering to do that job for you, but they would actually be derelict in their duties if they didn’t hustle to impress you and try to get good coverage.
And if they are successful and convince a journalist to give them non-skeptical, puff piece-type coverage? The responsibility is solely, 100% on the journalist. If you write some crap piece swooning over some politician in order to get more access, no one blames the politician. They’re just doing their job. It’s the journalist who fell down on the job, and no one else. (Of course, in many cases, you are, in fact, impressed with someone’s work. One reason you befriend people you cover is because you see them doing good work and like them. Which is another aspect of this that is getting lost in all this.)
There hasn’t been any evidence of Kotaku giving Quinn laudatory coverage her work didn’t earn because of fraternizing. But even if there was, a person who was actually concerned about this would devote 100% of their attention to criticizing Kotaku. Even if you can turn up evidence that Quinn hustled to get good coverage, so what? As a developer, that’s her job. It’s not her job to keep journalists honest.
The fact that Quinn has gotten roughly 99% of the finger-pointing and negative attention here shows that this is not and never has been about “ethics”. I’ve seen some people try to justify attacking her by saying they’re also against larger video game companies buying journalists food or throwing them parties. That’s cute—bullshit, but cute—but still, not an ethical violation. They are well within their rights to try to get good coverage. The only—only—people responsible for making sure that journalists stay objective and fair are journalists themselves and their editors. If “ethics” was your concern, the name “Zoe Quinn” would be meaningless to you. You wouldn’t give her a second thought, since, by definition, nothing a video game developer does can impugn their journalistic ethics, because they are not journalists and not bound by the rules of journalistic ethics.
2) The misogynist harassers contradict themselves. The excuse for harassing Zoe Quinn is a supposed concern that the video game press is not critical enough of the video games they cover. Then the same people turn around and harass Anita Sarkeesian, but this time the excuse is she’s too critical of video games and she needs to shut up and enjoy them without trying to analyze them. The same people are attacking both women, but in one case because they think she’s the cause of too little criticism and the other because she’s considered overly critical.
Clearly, the actual objection here has nothing to do with the various levels of critical analysis that should or should not be applied to video games, but that these two are women and feminists. The only thing they have in common is they are young and pretty and feminists. That means that it’s easy to use their images to provoke anger and anxiety in young men in high school and college who mistakenly believe that everyone else is having sexy fun times that they’re being shut out of. Older, more hardened misogynists know exactly how to manipulate this particular anxiety and tell young men that they are being shut out and that it’s feminism to blame for their social and romantic failures.
There’s a deep irony here, which is that a lot of the people that are being handed to these angry young men as hate objects were themselves nerdy outcasts when they were young, but they matured a little and pulled it together and now have great jobs in the industry and active social and romantic lives. And so it would happen to a lot of the young men who are raging and angry now, as they age and chill out and learn how to groom themselves and get along with women better. But that won’t happen for these young men if they get caught up in the cult of online misogyny and spend their energies that would otherwise go to maturing and mellowing out towards becoming ever more repulsive to women.
Because of this, I worry that this cult of misogyny is going to turn into a self-perpetuating thing: It preys on young men who are going through an adolescent social reject phase, telling them that it’s not just a phase but in fact an oppression delivered on them by sexy young feminists who are out to get them. That, in turn, causes these young men to become mean and pompous and hateful to women, making it even harder for them to meet women and start a healthy dating life of their own. They then blame feminism even harder for their own failures, becoming more wrapped up in online misogyny. They might start to recruit younger men, the way they were recruited.
All of which is why I’m glad to see a lot of grown men in geek circles getting involved. It helps send the message that it doesn’t have to be this way. Beyond that, however, I’m not sure what else to do.